Battle of Mariupol (2022)

Article

May 19, 2022

The Battle of Mariupol was a military confrontation between Russia and the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) against Ukraine that began on February 24, 2022, the first day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The port city of Mariupol is located in the Donetsk Oblast in southern Ukraine and is claimed by the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic. The city forms an important link between the separatist people's republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Donbas on the one hand, and Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014 on the other. Russian forces completely besieged the city on March 2, after which they gradually took control of the city. By April 22, the remaining Ukrainian troops had withdrawn to the Azovstal factory, a huge and highly defensible industrial complex. The Red Cross described the situation in Mariupol as "apocalyptic". Ukrainian authorities accused Russia of triggering a major humanitarian crisis, with city officials reporting about 21,000 civilian deaths. According to Ukrainian officials, at least 95% of the city was destroyed during the fighting, largely by Russian bombing. The siege ended on May 16, 2022, after what various media outlets referred to as the "evacuation" or "surrender" of the remaining Ukrainian personnel at the Azovstal factory; the Russian Defense Ministry stated that the Ukrainians had "surrendered", a word Ukraine did not use. However, on May 18, DPR leader Denis Pushilin claimed that the commanders of the Azov battalion were still in the factory.

Background

Mariupol is considered an important strategic city and target for the Russian forces. It is the largest city in the Ukrainian-controlled part of Donetsk Oblast. Mariupol is also an important industrial center, home to the steel mills Illich and Azovstal, and is the largest city on the Sea of ​​Azov. Control of the port on the western shore of the Sea of ​​Azov is vital to the economy of Ukraine. For Russia, it would be suitable as a land route to Crimea and to allow passage for Russian sea traffic. Conquering the city would give Russia complete control of the Sea of ​​Azov. In May 2014, during the War in Eastern Ukraine, troops of the separatist and Russian-backed People's Republic of Donetsk (DPR) attacked the city and Ukrainian forces forced their way into the city. to retreat. In June 2014, Ukrainian troops recaptured the city in an offensive. A few months later, in September, the DPR tried to take the city for the second time, but failed. In October 2014, the then head of the DPR, Alexander Zakharshenko, vowed to retake the city. Mariupol was then indiscriminately bombed by rockets in January 2015. Fearing a future third offensive in Mariupol, Ukrainian forces launched a surprise attack on Shyrokyne, a village 11 km east of Mariupol, in February with the aim of driving separatist forces from the city limits. and create a buffer zone away from the DPR area. Four months later, the separatists withdrew from Shyrokyne. The conflict ended when the Minsk II Accord was signed in 2015. One of the most instrumental groups for the reconquest and subsequent defense of Mariupol was the Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian volunteer militia, controversial for their openly neo-Nazi and nationalist members. In September 2014, Azov was integrated into the National Guard of Ukraine and established Mariupol as their headquarters. Since one of Putin's stated goals before the war was the "denazification" of Ukraine, Mariupol represented an important ideological and symbolic target for the Russian armed forces, as it